Nursing Dresses I’m Recommending to the Virgin Mary (and you)

by | Feb 14, 2020 | Babies, Baby Gear, Catholic Living, Pregnancy | 21 comments

So, you’ve got a nursing baby. Hey, me too! And sometimes it’s nice to go out in public and look cute and also feed the baby, right? You are the Mother of Incarnate God, free from all stain of original sin by a singular grace and privilege granted by the Father. *I* am a regular person who writes a blog. But I’ve also been nursing almost continuously for seventeen years, and know a thing or two about nursing dresses. I’ve gotten quite a few requests to share my favorite nursing dresses here on the blog. THEN I remembered these paintings of you and I figured who better to do this with than the Queen of Heaven?

A good nursing dress is important to me, because, as you know, you might think you’ve found a quiet corner in which to nurse and hang out with your parrots, but it then it turns out there’s a German Renaissance painter there. #babyjesussideeye #featheryshoulderwhytho

Madonna with Child and Parrots, by Hans Baldung.

It could be embarrassing. Well, not for you, of course. But it would be for me. So I’ve developed some strategies.

Any dress with a wrap front, or a crossover top, or a button front can work as a nursing dress, of course. Like these.

But if I wear one of those I like to do what you’ve done here, and add a scarf. #neckbreast #karatechopaction

Maria met kind, by Anonymous

But what *I’d* usually do is go with something opaque, more like what you’ve done here. #somuchloveforthesethighrolls #thisrogierdudeseemstohaveseenababybefore

Madonna with Child, by Rogier van der Weyden.

I also like to wear a nursing camisole, like these, because tummy rolls are cuter on babies than mamas. And, looking at you, now I’m thinking I need to up my headband game.

These types of dresses are the most widely-available, since they’re not specifically nursing dresses. But overall, this isn’t my favorite style in which to breastfeed in public, since it leaves the top of the breast uncovered. Scarves are good, but can be foiled by wind and grabby babies.

A way to avoid that is to find a dress that opens in the bodice, but stays closed at the neck. Like you have here. #whentheneighborkidcannotbecoolaboutthis

Madonna Lactans mit Josef und Johannesknabe, by Anonymous

The dresses I have of this type are specifically made for nursing, with zippers in the bodice (note: this particular dress works well for me, but the reviews indicate that it’s not a good choice for larger-breasted gals), or in the side seams (Update 2023: The dress originally linked here is no longer available, but this one is a similar one from the same brand), or with a split underbodice.

I do still usually wear a scarf with the zippered dresses, since if baby moves unexpectedly, there’s not a lot of backup coverage. #babyjesusdoingthethingwithhistoesthatnursingbabiesdo #andhesgotrubberbandwrist

Which brings me to my last type of nursing dress recommendation: the double-layer top. This type of dress has the functionality of a scarf built right in. Like so. #comeoninillbedowninaminute

Madonna col Bambino in gloria con i santi Martino e Caterina, by Moretto da Brescia

That means I don’t need to bring an extra layer. These are my favorite as far as comfort and ease of use. I’ve got them in a tank style, and three-quarter sleeve, and a cute blousy top one that’s dressier.

The first two are stretch knit, and can end up a little loungy-looking. Not on you, of course. But I really find them to be the most discreet. Often regular folks don’t even notice that I’m nursing in them. #elbowbreast #didnotskiplegday edited to add: #🌮?

Galaktotrophousa, by Master Ioannis

I used to use a nursing cover, but I find those to be more attention-grabbing than scarves or double layer dresses. And I prefer to be able to see my baby’s face. You, more than literally anyone, know what I’m talking about there. My usual nursing situation is probably going to involve a moment or two of some exposure. I just try to be cool about it, and do my best, and hope that the people around me will be cool about it too, and avert their eyes for a sec. I figure that’s how manners work. It’s a two way street.

These dresses have allowed me to nurse comfortably and stylishly while at Mass, in the hospital, running errands, speaking at conferences, and waiting on television appearances. I’m actually nursing in all of these photos.

Kelli Seeley Photography at the 2019 Fiat Conference
At Home With Jim & Joy on EWTN
Bismarck Diocese Thirst Conference 2019

So, I can confidently recommend them to Our Lady’s consideration, and yours.

Nursing dresses: Do you love them or hate them? What are your favorites? Links, please!

Note: This iconography of Our Lady is known as Madonna Lactans or Nursing Madonna. Examples of this depiction of the Virgin Mary nursing the baby Jesus date from as early as the 12th century, and they became very popular in the Middle Ages. They were a marked departure from previous Madonna and Child images, that often presented Mary and Jesus dressed in royal regalia. Middle and upper class European women of the Middle Ages typically contracted breastfeeding out to wet nurses. To show Our Lady in ordinary clothing, nursing her own child, was a touching reminder of the poverty and humility of the Holy Family. #butsomeofthemlookweirdtho


  1. Skye Angioletti

    When the neighbor kid cannot be cool about this!!!

    Come on in I’ll be down in a minute!!

    All these hashtags are #aweome!!!

  2. Angela

    Love your blue dress with white stripes from At Home With Jim & Joy on EWTN! Do you have a link to this one?

    • Kendra

      Thanks! It’s from Roolee, and I linked to it in brown with stripes above. Click on “in the side seams”. They don’t seem to have the blue one anymore

  3. Mallorie Kelly

    This was definitely the best nursing dress list ever. Thank you. I enjoyed it.

  4. Katie

    I’m WAY past breast feeding, so I thought, I want to read it (because I love your writing), but I can wait till I have time. So then…I forgot about it. But…you put it in your stories and I’m so glad you did because…GAH…I snort laughed! Your hashtags were perfection!

  5. Estey Garrett

    Kendra, what is the baby carrier you’re using in the last photo below? And do you have any favorite baby carriers /tips for nursing a baby in a carrier / wrap?
    Thanks for the helpful post on dresses!

    • Kendra

      It’s called a Jelly Bean Sling, and it’s my favorite newborn carrier, but they don’t make them anymore. I think it’s similar in function to any ring sling, though. I’m not sure if it works for everyone (I’m pretty slight of chest) but it’s really comfortable for me to breastfeed in the sling. Baby gets loaded into the sling the same way every time, for me the sling goes over my left shoulder, and baby lines right up to nurse on my left side. I keep an arm under for support, usually. It’s possible for me to rotate baby down under my right arm to nurse on the right side, but usually I just nurse on the left side in the sling and favor the right side at night, and when baby isn’t in the sling.

      • Estey Garrett

        Very helpful response, Thank you!

  6. Caroline Merrill

    Best post ever! As an art history major/nursing mom/Our Lady lover I enjoyed it immensely. Also the hashtags are too funny, #babyjesussideeye #neckbreast

    • Jean

      A while back you recommended bearsland nursing dresses and they are wonderful and flattering and work well for maternity wear too. I now own several and love them all!

  7. Kara

    This is such a funny, informative, and encouraging post. I have ALWAYS struggled with covering, no matter the style. I mostly attempt for other people’s comfort, but I think you’re right about it being more attention-getting. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by H&M’s nursing line and Latched Mama is a solid go-to for nursing wear.

  8. Daja

    Nursing dresses also come in handy for Our Lady when she has to shoot a stream of breast milk at St. Bernard. (See: Lactation of St. Bernard)

    Been nursing for almost 19 years straight. So, yes, I have also shot my children with breast milk from time to time….just for fun. To my knowledge it hasn’t imbued any of my children with supernatural wisdom, but whose to say.

  9. Amy

    This is both hilarious and useful. Well done! I love nursing dresses, shirts, and sweatshirts. I’m so grateful to live in a time with some many options! I still like to use my cover from Covered Goods because I am EVERYWHERE when I nurse, but I still couldn’t do it without a nursing top. It was also easier for me to by clothes specifically for nursing when I realized you can still wear them, even after you’re done nursing. A win-win if I’ve ever had one.

  10. Jann Elaine

    Love these options! I have had this very discussion about Mama Mary with multiple other nursing mamas and frequently have lamented that the painters are obvious men because the logistics of the “nursing” going in seems impossible haha.

    Unfortunately I find it extremely difficult to find nursing friendly dresses (especially ones that are knee-length or longer) I find that a skirt and top combo is much easier to come by. My personal favorite is to wear a nursing bra, covered with a full length slip that is somewhat stretchy and has loose straps, coupled with a shirt and skirt. Shirt goes up, slip and nursing bra goes down (like a nursing cami) and you have a lot of coverage and almost zero exposure. I got sick of wearing a nursing cane AND a shirt slip so the full length slip covers both bases. Also I hold my shirt close to baby’s cheek in public so I’m almost touching, seems like I’m caressing him but he’s got enough rough to breath and I am close enough to maneuver with a quick shirt down if little one should get distracted and turn away… not like THAT ever happens. Anyway, about four years of nursing experience here. So always looking for more tips!!
    A friend told me once the wrap style dresses a boat-neck crop top can help for more coverage and also convenience (although they are hard to find).
    I also find the nursing shawl draws more attention than it averts…and also baby number 2 HATED them. *sigh*. Scarves are a great alternative I hadn’t considered…

    Thanks for starting this conversation!

  11. Enloe

    I love the “blousy” one. But what bra do you wear with it??

    • Kendra

      I often wear my regular nursing camisole under it, and a cardigan so the straps don’t show. But if it’s not cardigan weather, I’ve got a bandeau/tube bra that works under it.

  12. Erika

    I am in the same predicament of nursing for 15+ years straight… with baby #8 on the way. I found that any clothing designed for nursing involves unhooking a bra, accessing the secret nursing panel, then sticking my boob through that secret panel… was way more complicated than just wearing a wrap dress with a cardigan backwards while nursing or using a nursing cover. The only time I use nursing covers are at church while wearing a dress that would otherwise flash the audience. Anytime I do accidentally flash people.. I figure it’s good for them to know what real boobs look like

  13. Amelia

    My favorite, don’t-know-what-I’d-wear-without-it wardrobe hack is half tanks. They’re used under immodest necklines but then I realized I could just pull up one side enough to nurse. I usually wear bras around 32L-34J so official “nursing clothes” don’t work and neither do dresses that stay buttoned at the top; clothing in general just tends to show cleavage on me even if it’s a well-designed neckline that would be modest on most women. But I hate camis because nobody wants to wear two layers through a southern summer. Half tanks to the rescue!

    My most favorite nursing ninja moment is when my cranky toddler nursed while sorta crouching beside me. Our priest friend walked by and tried to say hi to the little guy, who just kept his face buried and ignored him, so Father *patted him on the head* and went on his way, clearly 100% oblivious to the nursing.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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